Sunday, September 03, 2006

Ending Poverty. Improving Schools.

School starts in Chicago on Tuesday for over 400,000 kids. Almost half live in high poverty neighborhoods. Many will be attending over-crowded schools. Many will come with few aspirations or experiences that prepare or motivate them to learn. This is the same in every big city of America.

As school starts, many in the media will be writing editorials and commentary, lamenting the lack of leadership, or involvement, in solving poverty, or improving schools. One initiative, the Million Dad March, will seek to involve men in getting kids to school this week, and in helping those kids learn.

What's missing? While media stories that focus on Katrina, or individual kids are well written and catch some reader attention, they don't create the on-going personal connection that leads people beyond poverty, or who don't have kids in poor schools, to become personally involved.

Without a personally connection this remains "someone else's problem".

I feel that volunteering in a tutor/mentor program, where a volunteer makes a weekly contact with a youth, is one way of creating a bridge that links people beyond poverty with children and families in poverty. I write about this often in this blog.

As school starts, tutor/mentor programs all over the country, including Chicago, are looking for volunteers...and donors.

In Chicago you can visit the Program Locator at to find contact information for different programs in different neighborhoods. In other cities, you need to search volunteer databases, such as

All of these programs are different. They are not equally good at what they do. However, they are a connecting place where those who want to help can begin to build a personal understanding of the problem, and a personal connection with a young person who will enrich the life of the volunteer, as the volunteer seeks to do the same for the youth.

If you are a writer for a radio, TV, or newspaper, or if you know someone who is, I urge you to end your stories about poverty, poor schools, gangs, drugs, workforce development, civic engagement, etc, with links to web portals where people who don't live in the neighborhoods you write about can find ways to become personally connected.

If you do this with every story, you will be helping us build this bridge, and we'll begin to have more people read your stories with a personal understanding of what the problem is, and ways to solve it.

This is not a race. This is a journey. It takes 12 years just to go from 1st grade to being a high school graduate. It takes another 4 to 8 years to go on through the next level of education and be starting a job/career.

Many kids won't make it because too few people are involved personally in helping them along the way.

As school starts this week, let's make a commitment to change this.

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